Who’s zooming who?

It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.

The world of work has changed. That much is abundantly clear, even if much of the information coming out of Number 10 isn’t.

Covid-19 has changed the way we operate, probably for ever. Has it, however, changed anything that wasn’t already going to change? Probably not. Or not much at any rate. As Lord Deben said in his keynote address to the BMF’s Virtual AGM and Conference earlier this month “What a pandemic does is speed up the pace of change of things that were going to change anyway.”

Video-conferencing is not a new thing. It’s been around as long as the technology to operate it has been. But it took a lockdown and pandemic to bring it to the masses. Many companies with workforces, customers and suppliers who are geographically distanced had been gradually introducing virtual and video meetings – merchants, buying groups and suppliers amongst them. The pandemic hasn’t suddenly made people aware of it, but it has, perhaps, made them realise that there can be more efficient ways of conducting meetings.

‘Zoom’ has now become a verb, meaning to hold a conference via video link, in the same way that ‘to Google’ means to look something up on the internet. Many supplier training courses, once seen as jolly way to escape the day-job for a couple of days of factory visits and Marks and Spencer sandwich platters, are increasingly short, sharp, online options. They’re focussed and targeted at specific areas and don’t take anyone away from the three day-jobs they are now doing for longer than they need to.  One of the things that 2020 has done, taking aside the whole messing up our economy for aeons to come, is get us to decide which meetings we really do need to have in person and which can be conducted via a telephone call or a video-call.

We have, if you like, become a bit pickier about our meetings. Do I miss getting out and about in the industry? Yes, of course I do. You find out so much more about what’s going on and what makes people and their businesses tick if you are chatting to them in person and seeing how their business operates for yourself. Do I miss sitting in a traffic jam on a motorway, getting more and more concerned about being late for a meeting? Not a bit. Do I miss the ‘thinking time’ that a two- or three-hour drive to and from a meeting gives me? A bit, if I’m honest. Do I miss trying to write up an interview on the train home, playing laptop-battery-roulette and being buffeted about by a Pendolino train that seems determined to relieve me of my lunch? Definitely not. Do I miss catching up with merchants and suppliers – and in many cases their partners and families too – who I’ve met over the 25 years I’ve been doing this job? Hell yes.

We’re the lucky ones though. We have already built up those relationships and we know what we are missing. We are the ones who will be doing going to our damndest to make sure that whatever the shape of the industry post-Covid, we make it work for us and we get back to doing as much of the networking and bonding as we can.

It’s never going to be the same, but there’s a challenge to be had in making sure that, even so, it still works as a people industry.

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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